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The Sequential Advising Model for Group Advising:
Modifying Delivery Venues for Freshmen and Transfer Students

Jane E. Bentley-Gadow and Karen Silverson

Effectively serving students within the constraints of limited personnel and dwindling resources is an ongoing issue at many institutions. Indeed, our experience at the University of Northern Iowa is no exception. Due to a retirement and budget constraints, each advisor within our center received a case load increase of approximately 50%. The current budget supports our advising center with two advisors who serve approximately 1700 students majoring in elementary, early childhood, and middle level education.Jordan(2000) succinctly described the challenge when she stated, 'Many institutions decrease budgets as they pressure directors and supervisors to verify cost effectiveness of services provided. Advisors can respond by reducing services to students or by creating new venues and systems of delivering services more efficiently' (p. 24-25).

Our response to this increased load was to take the advice of Banta, et al. (2002) to 'become more efficient in using. .. resources' (p. 8). Through the process of establishing goals, planning, and restructuring our center, we devised a cost-efficient, manageable delivery system that provides targeted advising services to students during their first year on campus. We call the procedures for implementation of a systematic and effective approach to group advising the 'Sequential Advising Model'. This model provides early opportunities for students to develop skills in program planning and management thus freeing advisors to focus on the unique needs of individuals.

The Sequential Advising Model is a group advising format adaptable to any number of students and applicable to any major. The Model is designed with two distinct phases. Phase I is for large group meetings to disseminate information germane to all majors in the department or college. For freshmen, Phase I involves two large group meetings-New Major Orientation and Pre-Registration-held during their first Fall semester. For transfer students, Phase I involves one large group meeting-Transfer Orientation-which occurs prior to the start of their first semester. Phase II allows for small group meetings that target clusters of students and provides more specific information regarding the major. For both freshmen and transfer students, the Phase II small group meetings occur later in the sequence. It is important to note that students may schedule individual advisor meetings at anytime.

Group Advising Procedures for Freshmen   

Phase I (Large Group)
Phase I begins with our New Major Orientation meetings. The purpose of these meetings is to present departmental and university requirements pertinent to teacher education majors. These are planned for the sixth week of the semester thus allowing new students time to become acclimated to the university environment. Students are informed of meeting dates via letter. Three meeting times are scheduled to accommodate the number of students.

During New Major Orientation meetings, students receive three management tools that were developed by staff in our center: 1) student timeline, 2) referral resource pamphlet, and 3) reminder postcard.

The student timeline is a one-year calendar of selected dates. This tool helps freshmen set goals and make preparations to meet crucial deadlines that could significantly impact their rate of progress through the program of study.

The referral resource pamphlet is a three-page booklet with an abbreviated list of frequently used campus resources. Although the same information can be accessed from the university catalog or web site, the pamphlet serves as a ready resource for addressing many of the immediate needs of students.

The reminder postcard is a 3x5 card pre-printed with notification information regarding upcoming Pre-Registration meetings. Its purpose is two-fold: 1) track attendance (attendance is recorded in students' internal office files), and 2) remind students of Pre-Registration meeting dates. At the conclusion of each New Major Orientation, students are instructed to self-address these postcards; we collect them as students exit the meeting.

The second large group meeting in Phase I is the Pre-Registration meeting. Again, three sessions are needed to accommodate the number of students. Students are notified of meeting dates via mail using the reminder postcards described earlier. These meetings are scheduled one week prior to the start of registration for the Spring semester.

We have three objectives for our Pre-Registration meetings. First, we instruct students on how to read their degree audit, an official document from the Registrar's office that delineates the courses required to complete the student's degree program. We require students to bring a copy of their audit, found on the university web site, to the Pre-Registration meetings. Second, we provide course suggestions for the Spring semester. Third, we explain registration procedures for scheduling classes.

University policy requires freshmen to meet with an advisor before they access the on-line registration system. To ensure that this obligation is met, freshmen have an electronic hold placed on their registration that prevents them from scheduling courses. Advisors remove these holds after students have attended a Pre-Registration meeting. To validate their attendance, students record their name and student identification number on an index card at the conclusion of the meeting. The cards are collected and used to record attendance in students' internal office files and to remove registration holds. Students who do not attend a Pre-Registration meeting must schedule an individual meeting with an advisor.

Phase II (Small Group)
Phase II of the Sequential Advising Model involves Academic Planning Meetings, small group sessions in which advisors present information that pertains exclusively to students' academic majors. Here freshmen are allowed to officially declare their major and begin formulating a four-year plan. Groups are limited to eight students so advisors can address individual questions in greater detail and encourage group discussion.

Academic Planning meetings begin during the third week of the second semester. Letters invite students to attend; students are obliged to contact the Advising Center to reserve a seat. Students are required to bring their degree audits to this session.

Each Academic Planning session begins with students receiving a prepared folder that contains a declaration of curriculum form and other materials relative to their degree programs. They are instructed to bring this folder to all future advising appointments. The folders have proven to be a good organizational tool for students; subsequently, they come to advising appointments better prepared, making for a productive and meaningful appointment.

After students declare their major, they are provided with a Sample Semesters sheet, a front/back page developed by our staff that illustrates a tentative four-year academic plan for a specific major. Note: these sheets do not replace any official university document, e.g., catalog information, therefore the sheets carry a disclaimer statement.

Next, we teach students to align their Sample Semesters sheets with their degree audits by crossing out completed course work and figuring remaining hours. This process allows students to visualize their progress within the program relative to the number of courses and semesters remaining. This visualization gives students a partial answer to the time-honored question 'how long will I be in school?' More importantly, degree audits, coupled with the Sample Semesters sheets, provide students with a methodology for designing academic plans in a manner that reflects their goals.

Group Advising Procedures for Transfer Students
Use of the Sequential Advising Model for transfer students, drawn from the program outlined for first year students, has eased the transition experience for our transfer students.

Transfer Student Phase I (Large Group)
Our initial contact with transfer students is a one-hour, large group Transfer Orientation organized in cooperation with the university's central academic advising office. Before we advise students, they are greeted by an orientation staff and provided with an updated copy of their degree audit which delineates all submitted transfer work. Next, students planning to declare a major in elementary, early childhood, or middle level education are assembled and sent, as a group, to meet with us. In previous years, this meeting focused solely on the information transfer students needed to schedule classes for their first semester at our institution. Although scheduling is still a priority, we now incorporate the program management techniques into the orientation.

The Transfer Orientation opens with each transfer student receiving a folder of materials similar to those provided to freshmen during Academic Planning meetings. Materials include: 1) registration items, 2) forms for declaration of curriculum, 3) sample semester sheets for majors in our department, 4) referral resource pamphlet, 5) student timeline, and 6) invitation to attend a Phase II small group meeting. Essentially, this orientation program is a condensed version of the information and training provided to freshmen during New Major Orientation and Pre-Registration meetings. Additionally, transfer students are given explicit instructions for locating and logging onto the university's computer system as well as contact information for gaining access to their university email accounts. As more communication takes place electronically, students are encouraged to access the university's information loop.

Phase II (Small Groups)
Small group meetings are 45-minute sessions devoted to providing step-by-step instructions for deciphering the degree audit so that it becomes a meaningful and useful planning tool. Previously, during Transfer Orientation, students were dependent on advisors to help them determine courses needed based on their degree audit. The small group sessions are intended to foster independence so that students can learn to manage their own programs.Multiple sessions are offered during the third, fourth, and fifth week of the new semester. The invitation to small group meetings, which students receive during Transfer Orientation, instructs them to contact our center to reserve a time.

Students are required to bring their degree audits to small group sessions. Under our guidance, they highlight courses needed, calculate total credits, figure remaining credits, and compute the number of remaining semesters. Like the meetings with freshmen, students are instructed to align a Sample Semesters sheet with the degree audit in order to outline remaining semesters. As students work through this process, the abstract nature of program planning becomes more concrete.

After implementing the Sequential Advising Model in the fall of 2003, we observed that students who attended both Phase I and Phase II meetings demonstrated a competence in understanding the basics of program planning; thus, they could make adjustments in their programs independently. This competence was evident in the steady decline in the number of scheduled appointments since that time. Currently, our records indicate a 34% decrease in the number of individual appointments, with the majority of the decrease occurring in basic information sessions. We also noted a significant reduction in routine telephone and email traffic. Equally as important, student evaluations of Phase I and Phase II meetings were consistently positive. Comments included: 'the meetings really cleared up my confusions about my program'; 'the sample semesters sheet was very helpful'; and, 'at first, I didn't understand my degree audit, but after attending the meetings, I know what I have and what I need'.

It should be noted that attending both Phase I and Phase II meetings did not result in totally independent students. There is always a need for further guidance. While the numbers of students who came to our office for assistance in basic program planning issues decreased, the nature of the questions that students brought to us illustrated a greater understanding of their program requirements and if their plans needed to be modified. Subsequent discussions during individual advising meetings focused more on the impact modifications could make in the short- and long-term. For example, more students questioned the benefits and practicality of adding a second major. Similarly students more often grappled with issues concerning marketability versus personal interest when choosing a minor. Other discussions involved incorporation of study abroad opportunities into academic plans, or how to best prepare for graduate studies.

Gordon (1998) stated, 'As in our past, the future of academic advising is inextricably intertwined with the fate of higher education. Advising has been affected and influenced by many of the trends and issues confronting higher education' (p. 7). Indeed, after repeated budget shortfalls, our advising center has been challenged to effectively serve its advisees with limited staff and diminishing resources. We have responded to this challenge by developing the Sequential Advising Model: a delivery system which provides freshmen and new transfer students with the information and materials needed to become informed managers of their academic programs. As a result, advisors have had more time during individual appointments to help students further develop their academic programs and related personal and professional goals.

Jane E. Bentley-Gadow
Academic Advisor
University of Northern Iowa, College of Education

Karen Silverson
Academic Advisor
University of Northern Iowa,College of Education


Banta, T. W., Hansen, M. J., Black, K. E., & Jackson, J. E. (2002). Assessing advising outcomes. NACADA Journal, 22(1), pp. 5-14.   

Gordon, V. (1998). New horizons: Learning from the past and preparing for the future. NACADA Journal, 18(2), pp. 5-12.

Jordan, P. (2000). Advising college students in the 21st century . NACADA Journal, 20(2), pp. 21-30.

Cite using APA style as:

Bentley-Gadow, J. E. & Silverson, K. (2005). The sequential advising model for group advising: Modifying delivery venues for freshmen and transfer students. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website:

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